Envtl. Prot. Agency v. EME Homer City Generation, L. P., United States Supreme Court (4/29/14)
Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law
The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for pollutants at levels that will protect public health, 42 U.S.C. 7408. Once EPA establishes NAAQS, it designates “nonattainment” areas; each state must submit a State Implementation Plan, (SIP), within three years of any new or revised NAAQS. From the date EPA determines that a SIP is inadequate, EPA has two years to promulgate a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). SIPs must comply with a Good Neighbor Provision, and “contain adequate provisions … prohibiting .. . any source or other type of emissions activity within the State from emitting any air pollutant in amounts which will … contribute significantly to nonattainment in, or interfere with maintenance by, any other State with respect to” NAAQS. In response to flaws in its 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule, identified by the D. C. Circuit, EPA promulgated the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (Transport Rule), curbing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions in 27 upwind states to achieve downwind attainment of three NAAQS and providing that an upwind state contributed significantly to downwind nonattainment if its exported pollution produced at least one percent of a NAAQS in a downwind state and could be eliminated cost-effectively. EPA created an annual emissions “budget” for each upwind state and contemporaneously promulgated FIPs allocating each state’s budget among its pollution sources. The D.C. Circuit vacated the rule as exceeding EPA’s authority. The Supreme Court reversed. The CAA does not require that states be given another opportunity to file a SIP after EPA has quantified interstate pollution obligations. Disapproval of a SIP, without more, triggers EPA’s obligation to issue a FIP within precise deadlines. That EPA had previously accorded upwind states a chance to allocate emission budgets among their sources does not show that it acted arbitrarily by refraining to do so in this instance. The Good Neighbor Provision does not dictate a method of apportionment, so EPA had authority to select from among reasonable options; nothing precludes the final calculation from relying on costs. By imposing uniform cost thresholds on regulated states, the rule is efficient and is stricter on states that have done less pollution control in the past and does not amount to “over-control.”
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Highmark, Inc. v. Allcare, United States Supreme Court (4/29/14)
The Patent Act provides: “The court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party,” 35 U.S.C. 285. The Federal Circuit has interpreted section 285 as authorizing fee awards only “when there has been some material inappropriate conduct,” or when it is both “brought in subjective bad faith” and “objectively baseless.” A health insurance company obtained a declaratory judgment that a patent was invalid and not infringed. The district court found the case “exceptional” and awarded attorney fees of $4,694,727.40, $209,626.56 in expenses, and $375,400.05 in expert fees. The court found a pattern of “vexatious” and “deceitful” conduct by the defendant in attempting to force other companies to purchase licenses, even after its own experts determined that its claims lacked merit. The Federal Circuit reviewed the determination de novo and reversed in part. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. All aspects of a district court’s exceptional-case determination should be reviewed for abuse of discretion. That determination is based on statutory text that emphasizes that the district court is better positioned to make the “multifarious and novel” determination, which is not susceptible to “useful generalization” of the sort that de novo review provides, and is “likely to profit from the experience that an abuse-of discretion rule will permit to develop.” The word “exceptional” should be given its ordinary meaning: “one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated,” considering the totality of the circumstances.
Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., United States Supreme Court (4/29/14)
The Patent Act authorizes district courts to award attorney’s fees to prevailing parties in “exceptional cases,” 35 U.S.C. 285. In Brooks Furniture, the Federal Circuit defined an “exceptional case” as one which either involves “material inappropriate conduct” or is both “objectively baseless” and “brought in subjective bad faith” as shown by clear and convincing evidence. ICON sued Octane for patent infringement. The district court granted summary judgment to Octane, but denied attorney’s fees under section 285. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the Brooks Furniture framework “unduly rigid’ in light of the statutory grant of discretion to district courts. Section 285 imposes only one constraint on the award of attorney’s fees, limiting it to “exceptional” cases. Because the Patent Act does not define “exceptional,” the term should be given it ordinary meaning: “uncommon,” “rare,” or “not ordinary.” An “exceptional” case is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both governing law and the facts) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated. District courts may determine whether a case is “exceptional” in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances. The Brooks Furniture standard was so demanding that it appeared to render section 285 superfluous of the courts’ inherent power to award fees in cases involving misconduct or bad faith. Section 285 imposes no specific evidentiary burden.
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